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10 Chicago Startup Awards to Raise Your Startup’s Profile in 2021


CIA 2018 On Stage

The year is quickly coming to an end, which means it’s time to solidify your marketing strategy for 2021. If that strategy doesn’t already include applying for awards, it should!

Award wins help startups gain exposure, earn credibility, and grow brand recognition without investing too much money. And with a proper post-win amplification plan, you can maximize the ROI of any awards you win by getting them in front of the audiences that matter most to you.

So which ones should you target?

It’s not always practical for startups to chase huge national awards like the Inc. 5000 or Fortune’s Top Workplaces. This is especially true for early-stage startups. These awards are expensive to apply for, and you’ll be competing with some of the largest companies in the country.

But local awards are a great fit. They’re designed to highlight startups in a specific region, which means the applicant pool is by definition smaller.

Read on for 10 local awards Chicago-area startups should apply for in 2021.

10 Chicago Startup Awards for 2021

Crain’s Notable Executive Series (Multiple Categories)

Spotlights executives from a wide range of industries, including HR, Marketing, Law, and more. (See the awards page for all industries.)

  • Deadline: Jan. 15 – Oct. 1, depending on your industry (all 2021 deadlines here)
  • Requirements: Varies by category 

Crain’s 20 in their 20s (Edit: Canceled for 2021)

Recognizes young leaders to know in Chicago business. From social ambassadors to entrepreneurs, each class of recipients is an emerging leader in their field.

Crain’s Fast 50

Highlights Chicago’s best and most innovative companies with stories about successful Chicago entrepreneurs, winning business strategies, and strong revenue growth.

  • Deadline: April 2, 2021
  • Requirements: Company must…
    • Be at least six years old
    • Have at least $15 million in revenue in the most recent calendar year
    • Be headquartered in one of the seven counties of Chicagoland (Cook, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry, or Will).

Chicago Tribune’s Top Workplaces

Recognizes companies that are leading the way in organization health, company culture, and overall employee satisfaction. Winners are based solely on employee survey results.

  • Deadline: May 7th, 2021
  • Requirements: The company needs to be based in Chicago and have more than 100 employees.

Crain’s 40 Under 40

Spotlights young leaders who have made a substantial impact on Chicago business and their community. Notable alumni include Barack Obama and chef Stephanie Izard.

  • Deadline: July 16th, 2021
  • Requirements: Nominee must be under 40 years old as of publication date (Nov. 6 in 2020)

1871 Momentum

Recognizes companies and people in the Chicago tech ecosystem. Momentum is hosted by 1871, a nonprofit digital startup incubator in Chicago.

  • Deadline: TBD for 2021 (2020’s deadline was July 22nd)
  • Requirements: Varies by award category

Chicago Innovation

Highlights the most innovative products and services introduced to the Chicago region. Last year we spoke with Chicago Innovation Award co-founder and judge Tom Kuczmarski to get his advice on how to win awards.

  • Deadline: July 24, 2021
  • Requirements:
    • The company or product was introduced within the last four years
    • The company is headquartered in the greater Chicago region (including the northern half of Illinois, southern Wisconsin, and northwestern Indiana).

Chicago Inno 50 on Fire

Celebrates companies that have made significant contributions to the Chicago startup ecosystem.

  • Deadline: TBD for 2021 (2020’s deadline was September 1st)
  • Requirements: The company must be based in the Chicago area.

Chicago Business Journal Women of Influence

Recognizes women who have made an impact both professionally and in their communities. Not only have the women honored by this award found success in Chicago business, they’ve also been active in pursuing charitable endeavors, serving in their communities, and working to develop professionals in their industries.

  • Deadline: TBD for 2021 (2020’s deadline was September 4th)
  • Requirements: The nominee needs to be an executive based in the Chicago area.

Crain's Best Places to Work

Recognizes companies that go above and beyond in creating a great workplace culture. The award is largely based on employee survey results.

  • Deadline: TBD for 2021 (We expect an August deadline)
  • Requirements: Companies do not need to be headquartered locally to qualify but do need to have at least 25 local employees working in at least one of the Chicagoland counties (Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake (IL), Lake (IN), McHenry, and Will)

Local Awards Are a Powerful Tool for Startups

Local awards can be powerful for startups – they can even pave the way to winning bigger national awards. For inspiration, read how Chicago startup Alligatortek leveraged local awards to win a Microsoft Partner of the Year award.

Not sure whether your startup would stand up to local competition? Looking for other ways to get attention for your startups (like, media placements)?

Get in touch. We’re happy to share the secrets of our clients' success in earning and leveraging award wins over the years.